NOW examines how some big corporations’ cozy ties to the White House may be leading to war profiteering, with taxpayers paying the price. And Congress’ approval of $87 billion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan raised new questions about how the money would be spent. With the details of many contracts hidden from public disclosure, who’s getting the big bucks to rebuild Iraq?
Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has been described as a “rock star” among conservatives. So what could have motivated him to join forces with the ACLU? Barr talks about his fight to stop the escalating erosion of liberties caused by the Patriot Act. Among his distinctions, Barr occupies the 21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy, serves as distinguished fellow with Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance, and is a contributing editor for THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR.
During a career in politics in the 1960s, Stewart Udall was instrumental in the passage of The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the creation of The Land and Water Conservation Fund, and as the only person to serve as Secretary of the Interior for two Presidents, he is uniquely qualified to assess government’s handling of environment over the last 40 years. In this wide ranging interview, Udall discusses environmental policies, the influence of money on politics, and his latest book, THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS, which counters the popular myth of how the American West was settled. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. The news from Iraq just keeps coming.
A secret CIA report this week warns that more and more Iraqis believe the U.S. could actually lose the war. American troops have started using Vietnam-like tactics: hitting back at suspected enclaves without proof that they are harboring insurgents.
And American authorities are now limiting press access to both troops and private contractors in Iraq. Two Americans working for private contractors were buried this week, their remains brought home from Iraq after a bomb exploded under their SUV.
As you know, there’s a big debate over those billion-dollar contracts being handed out to rebuild Iraq. Some Democratic presidential candidates say the government is playing favorites. Defenders of the process, however, say, “nonsense.”
Here’s an excerpt from a column by Conservative David Brooks, writing in the NEW YORK TIMES this week, quote: “The fact is that unlike the Congressional pork barrel machine, the federal procurement system is a highly structured process, which is largely insulated from crass political pressures.”
Perhaps, but it’s not easy to sort out the facts because the whole process is shrouded in bureaucracy and secrecy.
But one thing is certain: a lot of people in Washington and Baghdad look upon what’s happening as the modern equivalent of a gold rush. And they’re not shy about promoting their political connections to get to the front of the line.
Our story is reported by senior Washington correspondent Roberta Baskin, and producer Katie Pitra.
BASKIN: Here beneath Iraq’s landscape lies a vast ocean of oil, the second largest oil reserve in the world with over a hundred billion barrels of crude ready to be tapped. When America invaded Iraq last March, troops raced first to secure the rich fields of Kirkuk.
So with vast reserves just waiting, why is the U.S. government paying the Halliburton Corporation $2.65 per gallon to ship gasoline into Iraq from Kuwait, when one investigation discovered it could be done for less than a dollar a gallon? The price difference alone is costing taxpayers as much as a hundred million dollars. When we asked Halliburton about this discrepancy, they wouldn’t tell us, and even a United States Congressman can’t find out why.
WAXMAN: Why are we paying $1.65 a gallon more? Is it because Halliburton is gouging the public? Is it because the Kuwaitis are overcharging Halliburton? Is it because there’s a culture where they don’t care what they pay because the taxpayers are gonna pay the bill? So there’s no reason for them to want to hold down the costs.
BASKIN: Representative Henry Waxman is ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee. He’s been fighting for information about how those billions of U.S. tax dollars are being spent rebuilding Iraq.
WAXMAN: If the evidence of what Halliburton has been charging for gasoline to be brought into Iraq is emblematic of anything. And it’s emblematic of no oversight, no transparency, and fleecing of the taxpayers.
BASKIN: Halliburton is the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. The company says the Congressman’s numbers are too high, but won’t let Waxman look at its books.
Just as the war started, Halliburton was awarded a no-bid $7 billion contract to repair Iraq’s oil industry.
WAXMAN: We’ve had such enormous difficulties, just getting straight answers about the contracts that have been given out to Halliburton, for example, to run their activities in Iraq.
BASKIN: Halliburton proved itself after the first Gulf War, putting out the fires in the oil fields. The Pentagon has said it didn’t want to waste time finding someone new if Saddam burned the oil fields again. But Waxman says it’s a prime example of what’s wrong with the secrecy surrounding the government’s contracts because in the initial $87 billion dollar Iraq aid package, there was another $2 billion for Halliburton. And when Waxman started asking, he says neither the government nor the company seemed to know why the $2 billion was there or what it was for.
WAXMAN: We’ve got billions here, billions there and as one Senator once said, “A billion here, a billion there, it starts adding up to real money.”
BASKIN: As private contractors replace soldiers in rebuilding Iraq, there are about 70 contracts we know about — contracts worth up to $8 billion whose details are buried in bureaucracy and secrecy. No one has tried harder to get at those details than the watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity. In a six-month investigation, the Center found that cozy insider relationships have become an accepted way of doing business in the fight against terrorism.
BEELMAN: In Washington speak, that’s called the revolving door.
BASKIN: The revolving door: people moving between government and business, taking along an insider’s knowledge that might give them an unfair advantage in the competition for lucrative and often secretive government work . Although it’s taxpayers’ money paying for all these business deals, the billion-dollar details have been so scattered in files around the world that even these seasoned investigators end up in one dead-end after another.
BEELMAN: So we’ve been like little rats in a maze. And every time we’ve hit a wall, we’ve backed up and turned around and gone another way.
BASKIN: They aren’t the only ones who’ve had to go another way. Some Iraqis are complaining they’re being shut out of rebuilding their own country.
AL-KHAFAJI: I had to resign, after noting that there was no role for the Iraqis to play under the Coalition Provisional Authority.
BASKIN: His name is Isam al-Khafaji. He’s an Iraqi exile who’s testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Al-Khafaji was an early member of the group brought in by the Pentagon to advise Americans on the future of Iraq. After the war, he returned to help rebuild the country. But he soon grew disgusted that Iraqis weren’t able to compete for those big contracts on their own.
AL-KHAFAJI: The irony is that now they — the big business, for example, big Iraqi businessmen — have to enter into partnerships with non-Iraqi companies in order to get a better chance in getting contracts in their own country.
BASKIN: Al-Khafaji says when it comes to contracts, things haven’t changed much since the bad old days of Saddam Hussein.
The emphasis is on who you know, not what you know. He’s started his own watchdog group called Iraq Revenue Watch to investigate what he believes are American-made “insider” deals.
AL-KHAFAJI: The U.S. is doing something that’s not quite different from what Saddam Hussein used to do. That is, handing the contracts, the lucrative contracts, to other— whoever happens to be my friend or somebody that I am connected to.
BASKIN: He might have a point. Back in Washington, well-connected beltway insiders are not shy about promoting just how inside they are.
One example: Zell, Goldberg, & Co. Take a look at its Web site. You can see right there that they’ll assist “American companies in their relations with the United States government in connection with Iraqi reconstruction projects…” Once again, “assists American companies in connection with Iraqi reconstruction projects…”
And just who at the firm can connect you to the American government? None other than Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith.
Who’s Douglas Feith? Undersecretary of Defense, one of the handful of advisers who, long before September 11th, championed the campaign to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now Douglas Feith is the man in charge of the Pentagon’s reconstruction of Iraq.
To sum up, Marc Zell is one well-connected middleman, standing right between the people who give the contracts and the people who want them.
We asked to interview him about all this, but our calls were not returned.
WAXMAN: Now we’re seeing middlemen who are trying to get the contracts for these private contractors and become lobbyists. Many of them seem to have political connections to those that are in power. And we’re fighting a war.
BASKIN: But even at the war’s frontlines, the middlemen are busy making their deals.
Marc Zell also works with a different firm called the Iraqi International Law Group, which very much wants to be “Your Professional Gateway to the New Iraq.”
Who’s in charge of that gateway? A man named Salem Chalabi. He has a famous uncle, Ahmed Chalabi. You see him there in Iraq but before the war, this exile was handpicked by the planners in the Pentagon to shape the new goverment. When the war started, they airlifted Chalabi into the country with his own 700-man militia. At the center of all that planning: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whose old law partner, Marc Zell, now works with Ahmed Chalabi’s nephew providing that gateway to the new Iraq.
WAXMAN: Why do we need all these layers of people to take the taxpayers’ dollars? Why can’t the government do the job that we need to do to win the war and win the peace? And if we need to contract it out, why can’t we have a bidding process and choose the company that will do the best job?
BASKIN: And Chalabi isn’t the only member of the Iraqi leadership with close relatives lining up for rebuilding contracts.
The son of one Chalabi aide runs a phone company that is part of the group that won the contract to provide cell service to southern Iraq.
Chalabi’s aide told the LOS ANGELES TIMES he doesn’t understand the fuss over his son’s inside connections. Comparing his son to the Americans, he said, “It didn’t stop Cheney from becoming Vice President.”
But these aren’t the only friends of government promoting their inside influence in what’s been called the “Iraq gold rush.” One firm was established just for that purpose: New Bridge Strategies.
BAKER: Well, what New Bridge Strategies is set up for is to help clients work their way through the maze of contracting procedures —
BASKIN: If you can’t find your way around Baghdad, Mike Baker will lend you a hand. He’s a former CIA officer and part of the management team for New Bridge Strategies and its sister company, Diligence, a security firm. Both are staffed by old Washington hands, and both are headquartered in the offices of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. The Barbour in that title is Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican party and one of the highest paid lobbyists in Washington. He’s now the governor-elect of Mississippi.
BAKER: New Bridge Strategies is staffed by people that have a great deal of experience in Washington. Everyone from Joe Allbaugh to Ed Rogers. They understand how the administration thinks.
BASKIN: They should understand how the administration thinks. They used to be in it. Joe Allbaugh ran George W. Bush’s campaign for President and was then put in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Mike Baker’s other colleague is this man: Ed Rogers. He served as a Deputy Assistant to the first President Bush. Here he is in Iraq, with Mike Baker posing in front of a tank, outfitted in flak jackets and sporting a semi-automatic rifle.
BASKIN: Is it who you know or what you know in terms of paving the way of Baghdad?
BAKER: I think it’s both. It’s who you know, it’s what you know. It’s how much information you have about what services are required. And part of it is just being in a company that you know provides those types of services.
BASKIN: But skeptics might be more easily persuaded if the government didn’t shroud all this in so much secrecy. That secrecy makes it practically impossible to find out if those close to the administration are profiting off their inside information. And it makes it equally hard to find out if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.
WILLIAMS: We went ahead and asked them for this. And this is what we got back from them on these contracts.
BASKIN: For example, in the name of secrecy, the Pentagon redacted almost every page of this contract. They have made it impossible to answer questions about fees being charged or the work being done or even the total cost of the job. Just look at the blacked out sections of this deal with the defense contractor: SAIC.
BASKIN: There’s no amounts here?
WILLIAMS: Well, you see the whole amount thing is — and the quantity — completely blacked out.
BASKIN: All we know for certain about the contractor, SAIC, is that the top people of this privately held FORTUNE 500 company are wired into the Pentagon. On the board, are a retired general and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense. And then there’s Ryan Henry. He was SAIC’s Senior Vice President —until, that is, he went through that revolving door to work in the Pentagon, into the very office that now supervises his former company’s contract.
WILLIAMS: What they did was leave in the unit price and took out the totals. So we have no idea how much the total is. But we do know that some folks over there are probably making about $209 an hour, if they’re considered an Executive Management Consultant 1. Whatever that is.
BASKIN: When we called SAIC to ask about its contract, we got a classic Washington runaround.
The company referred us to the Pentagon, which referred us to a Coalition Provisional Authority official in Baghdad, who referred us back to the Pentagon.
WILLIAMS: One of the things that’s interesting about these contracts is, they’re only required to be in country in Iraq for 30 days on some of this work. And the rest of the time, they can be at an office building down the street in Arlington, near the Pentagon.
BASKIN: Making that same wage?
WILLIAMS: Yeah Under this SAIC contract. So it’s certainly good work if you can get it.
BASKIN: Some members of the President’s own party are asking questions and calling for change, like Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe. He spoke out at a recent House hearing and demanded open competition for contracts.
KOLBE (AT COMMITTEE HEARING): If we’re going to have credibility with the American people, they need to know that American companies that either they represent or have done their work through the sweat off the brow of American workers are going to have an opportunity to have a fair shot at securing contracts in the rebuilding of Iraq. That’s what America is about: open competition, about giving everybody an opportunity.
BASKIN: And over in the Senate, Maine Republican Susan Collins co-sponsored an amendment requiring better disclosure for the reconstruction money.
COLLINS: Competitive bidding ensures that the taxpayer gets the very best value for his investment. It also enhances public confidence that contracts are awarded in a manner that is fair and transparent.
BASKIN: The Bush administration has promised greater transparency in the bidding process. But as the $87 billion aid request moved through Congress, the House leadership killed a provision to punish those contractors making excessive profits off the war.
WAXMAN: I haven’t heard a good explanation of why those provisions were dropped. Evidently, somebody thought it’s okay to profiteer.
ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW.
UDALL: Washington’s a cesspool of money, Bill. I was there 49 years ago. It has changed so drastically it makes me sick every time I look at it.
ANNOUNCER: Former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall on how times have changed.
BRANCACCIO: There have been new developments in another issue facing the country: how the war on terror touches our personal lives.
Just six weeks after 9/11, the White House pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act, greatly expanding the ability of government to conduct wiretaps and surveillance on Americans.
Then last February, NOW reported on a Justice Department plan dubbed PATRIOT Act II that would give law enforcement even greater powers.
Opposition was swift. Some 200 local governments adopted resolutions opposing it, and the legislation was never introduced in Congress. But the story doesn’t end there.
In September, at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, President Bush pushed again for more tools to fight terrorists, saying the first PATRIOT Act is just not strong enough.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Under current federal law, there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism, obstacles that don’t exist when law enforcement officials are going after embezzlers or drug traffickers.
For the sake of the American people, Congress should change the law and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime.
BRANCACCIO: So now the White House has come up with a new legislative tactic. PATRIOT Act II has been broken into small bites, which are appearing as attachments to other appropriation bills.
Here’s how it works. Buried deep inside the 77-page Senate Intelligence Authorization bill, parts of which are classified, comes a one paragraph provision titled — listen carefully; it’s not fine print, it’s the title: MODIFICATION TO DEFINITION OF FINANCIAL INSTITUTION IN THE RIGHT TO FINANCIAL PRIVACY ACT.
Many lawmakers, when they voted to pass the measure this summer, didn’t realize the tiny provision would significantly expand government powers.
We talked to the American Civil Liberties Union and they told us the legislation allows the FBI to secretly sift through our financial transactions with car dealers, travel agencies, post offices, casinos, pawnbrokers, as well as securities dealers and currency exchanges, all without a judge’s approval.
Bob Barr joins us now to sort through the latest on this issue. He’s a former Republican Congressman from Georgia, dubbed “Mr. Privacy” by the columnist William Safire.
Mr. Barr is a contributing editor for the AMERICAN SPECTATOR and sits on the board of the National Rifle Association.
Bob Barr, welcome to NOW.
BARR: Always a pleasure and an honor. Thanks for having me.
BRANCACCIO: Give me a sense of this. Are these theoretical privacy concerns? Or are these things that you me, my grandmother have to worry about right now?
BARR: None of these concerns that I and many others across the country have expressed are theoretical. These are very real concerns. And we’re seeing people, I know personally from people coming to me either as an attorney or as an activist on privacy issues with very real stories about very real adverse effects that have befallen them.
Bank accounts that had been closed out with no reason. And the PATRIOT Act cited as the reason. Now, these are powers that are affecting real people, real citizens, law-abiding citizens every day. And we all ought to be concerned about the extent to which our privacy is being invaded.
BRANCACCIO: What do you think about this apparent strategy to insert a little paragraph here into a new law? Or maybe a little paragraph there instead of trying to push for a whole new PATRIOT Act II?
BARR: I always hate to tell people I told them so. But I’ve been warning for months now that in the wake of the adverse reaction to the initial draft of what I call the Son of PATRIOT Act early this year, the government would probably switch tactics to start trying to insert separate specific provisions of it into other bills. And that’s particularly dangerous during the final few months of any Congressional session when all of the spending bills come up.
So this doesn’t surprise me. It’s very unfortunate that the government is doing this. But it’s happened time and again. I remember it from the years that I spent in the Congress. And I’m sure that we’ll see it again. It’s sort of an underhanded way of doing it. But it’s common practice in Washington.
BRANCACCIO: So this whole idea of giving the government broader authority to get access to your financial records, is that not okay with you?
BARR: It’s not okay with me. And it ought not to be okay to all law-abiding citizens in this country. And even those that are doing something wrong, as both a former prosecutor and as a defense attorney, I like to see the government play by the rules. In other words, if the government has a legitimate reason to suspect that you or I or somebody else has, in fact, violated the law, the financial laws of this country, I have no problem with them going before a court, getting a court order, getting a subpoena in order to look at that information and build its case.
What I strongly disagree with are these efforts that seem to be moving into high gear now such as what we heard at the beginning of the program with the expanded ability now of the FBI to get financial records. Is the power of the government to start getting all of that private information without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever that the target has done anything wrong? That represents a dramatic change in the Fourth Amendment law of this country.
BRANCACCIO: But this is what I don’t understand. You said law-abiding citizens. Why should a law-abiding citizen even care? We have nothing to hide.
BARR: Well, maybe we do. Maybe a law-abiding citizen doesn’t want the government to know what they’re talking about on their e-mails with a friend or an associate. Maybe the law-abiding citizen doesn’t want the government to know exactly how much money they have coming in and out of a bank at a particular time. Or that they’ve made certain credit card purchases. Or that they’ve exercised their Second Amendment rights to purchase a firearm.
Maybe the citizen just doesn’t want the government to know that on a regular daily basis for a couple reasons. One, you don’t know what some bureaucrat is going to think is wrong behavior on your part or not. Secondly, it has a chilling effect on how we all operate in this country if we know the government is gonna have regular secret access to that information.
And it’s going to dramatically change the way we operate not only with the government but interface with each other in our society. And that’s wrong. That’s bad. And that creates a sort of secretive state that America has never stood for in the past.
BRANCACCIO: One of my colleagues here on NOW opened up his mail I think last night. And he got a message from his mutual fund here. Important notice. It was from Fidelity it turns out.
And it said, “The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 requires Fidelity to get his name, social security number, address, DOB, date of birth.” And then it concludes, little paragraph. It says, “Be assured that this information will be treated with the highest regards for your personal privacy.” Sort of ironic I think.
BARR: Well, it’s ironic and it’s not true. The fact of the matter is that under not just the PATRIOT Act but a number of other provisions of laws that have gone into effect in recent years and procedures that have gone into effect that aren’t even laws, that are just government data-mining programs that the government is involved in, this sort of information is not protected properly under privacy safeguards.
There’s one program, for example, that the government is involved in where they’re allowing a private company, an outside company, to maintain and manipulate the data that the government is paying for. And the person whose information is part of that database maintained by a private company has no assurance whatsoever that there are going to be privacy guarantees to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of that information. So these sorts of notices are simply made to make people feel good. They have literally no meaning.
BRANCACCIO: So your mutual fund wants to know exactly who you are and your social security number, again, to pass it along to the government. But is there other areas of likes that we’re already running into where the US PATRIOT Act touches us?
BARR: Very much so. There’s one particular provision in the PATRIOT Act that has received a great deal of attention because it places or gives the government much expanded power to gain access to library records, for example. Even though the government says, “Well, trust us, we’re not using that provision.”
There are a number of different ways under the PATRIOT Act, for example, that the government gets the same information. That same power that the government gained in the PATRIOT Act to gain easier and secret access to library information can be used in virtually any situation where you have an entity, a business, for example, or an agency of a local or state government, that gathers information on you.
That could mean a pawn shop. A person, a company that maintains records of your firearms purchases. That raises very serious Second Amendment concerns among those of us who care about our Second Amendment rights. Medical records is another area that is in danger of becoming a repository for information that the government can get access to without you knowing about it, without any basis whatsoever other than some vague notion on the part of the government that this will help them in an investigation. And most problematic perhaps is the person to whom the subpoena is directed is prohibited under penalty of criminal laws against them, being brought against them, from even telling you that the government has sought the information.
BRANCACCIO: Now, you just said “in danger of.” I was reading the speech by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She said she got about 21,000 concerned e-mails about the PATRIOT Act which she looked through them. And couldn’t find sort of a verified instance of the PATRIOT Act being abused in the complaints.
It was more concerns about the future. What do you think? I mean, “is it happening already?” is what I’m trying to get at.
BARR: It is happening already. One has to presume, I think, it is a sort of a law of nature, that if government has a certain power it’s going to use it. I know of no instance in which government has sought or has been given a particular power in which they’ve sort of put it on the shelf and never used it.
There’s a reason why the government wanted those powers. They wanted to use them. And I think we have to legitimately and realistically presume that they are using these powers. Whether that represents an abuse is just a rhetorical game.
The problem is I think these powers, many of them are un-Constitutional in and of themselves. But the main problem in terms of Senator Feinstein or other public officials saying, “Well, you can’t point to a particular instance of abuse therefore the PATRIOT Act ought to stand as it was passed,” is something that you can never refute because the danger here is — and the problem here is that these powers are exercised in secret.
So you never know what the government is doing. They have effectively taken the court out of the equation. So even the courts cannot participate in any sort of meaningful oversight over what the government is doing.
BRANCACCIO: Now, I know that you were concerned about some of these issues when you were in Congress and this was on the table. But you did end up voting for it. Ever wonder what you were thinking back then?
BARR: Well, I knew what I was thinking. And I was thinking the same thing that a lot of folks were thinking. One is the fact that we knew that there were, in fact, some specific powers that the government did need to specifically address acts of terrorism. Unfortunately, the PATRIOT Act goes far beyond that. And it applies— most of its provisions apply generally to criminal laws, not just acts of terrorism.
But something that neither I nor others knew at the time was, one, the extent to which the government would use these acts for example, non-terrorism investigations. Secondly, we really didn’t have any inkling at the time exactly how far the government would go with other programs. That when you sort of add them on top of the PATRIOT Act present a very oppressive privacy invasive move on the part of government.
So now after two years if you look at what the PATRIOT Act has done in conjunction with all of these other powers, the Total Information Awareness Program, for example. The Passenger Profiling System, for example. It becomes much more problematic than it appeared to us two years ago.
BRANCACCIO: The airline passenger profiling system?
BARR: That’s correct.
BRANCACCIO: Now, you have impeccable conservative credentials. You’re on the board of the National Rifle Association. You oppose same-sex marriages. What do your conservative colleagues make of your outspoken stance on an issue that puts you right in there with the American Civil Liberties Union?
BARR: Most people know me well enough to understand that this is not an epiphany that I’ve had, that I’ve all of a sudden changed. I’ve actually worked on these very same issues for the entire time that I was in the Congress. And that was frequently with the ACLU as an ally.
Now, the ACLU and I disagree on many issues. But on these type of issues regarding civil liberties and particularly protecting the right to privacy we have worked. I have worked personally with the ACLU and have very high regard for their work in this area. And what’s been interesting is we have brought the right and the left together.
Very conservative organizations and very liberal organizations on these issues. And I think that’s perhaps the main reason why these concerns about the PATRIOT Act and other government programs are starting to now surface and be heard in the halls of Congress, which is good.
BRANCACCIO: Sometimes, though, this right/left division can be confusing. There are different kinds of left and different kinds of right. I was reading one of your columns recently. You were talking about those neo-conservatives.
And you were critical of the neo-conservative view. You defined it this way. Your quote is, “The problem is that such total global American military dominance would require a huge federal bureaucracy. And even worse,” you write, “it would require an essentially permanent state of war abroad as well as a climate of fear at home — leading to ever-increasing levels of government power.” Is that your broader concern here?
BARR: It is very much a concern. We’ve seen this in other societies around the world. Other countries around the world where in order to bolster a particular regime or a particular government over either a short or long period of time, you not necessarily conjure up but you either conjure up or focus on an external enemy.
And people in any state are always willing to rally around the flag and rally around their government if they’re presented by the government with a situation that the government says threatens our national survival and overlook a lot of what the government is doing domestically simply because their attention is focused on an assertion of national security concerns abroad. That is now in this country a very real concern on the part of a lot of us.
And I would hope that the administration would listen to these concerns and work with those of us that have concerns rather than sort of just circling the wagons, hunkering down and saying, “No, we’re not gonna listen to any dissent. As a matter of fact, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna go ahead and propose more powers.”
BRANCACCIO: What is it about you that makes you so concerned? I know you grew up, what, overseas? Does that play into this?
BARR: It does. Probably at sort of the fundamental level, two things. One, having lived, worked and grown up in the Middle East — in Baghdad, Tehran, as well as in other parts of the world — where I’ve seen these sort of police powers and privacy invasive powers used on a regular basis. I’ve grown up in areas where you don’t have the liberties that we’ve always sort of taken for granted in this country.
Secondly, I spent a number of years as a federal prosecutor and as an official with the CIA, so I’ve been sort of on the other side. And I have, I think, a pretty good understanding of just how powerful government already was before it got these new powers. And in my opinion, in virtually every instance where we’ve had a problem with acts of terrorism succeeding, for example, it was not the result of the government not having enough power, but simply having made mistakes in exercising existing power or simply made policy decisions.
BRANCACCIO: People who even share your concerns about the abuses of liberty, may say, “Look, we’re at a time of war here, and we don’t want to do anything that gives aid and comfort to those who wish to attack us. You worry that your efforts to highlight possible abuses to our liberties, might in fact, have unintended consequences in our fight against terrorism?
BARR: Absolutely not. None of us, as citizens of this land, based on the rule of law, and with a Bill of Rights which underlies our very form of government, our very existence as a nation, ought never to be intimidated, into not speaking out on these issues. Simply because somebody says, “Well, to speak out against them gives aid and comfort to the enemy.” That is not what these concerns are about. What we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to strengthen America by standing up for giving government the tools that it needs, but not those tools that are violative of the very liberties that the terrorists are trying to take away from us.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Congressman Barr, thank you so much for joining us on NOW.
BARR: It’s an honor, thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS: what is happening to the American dream? More and more families facing hard times.
Has the country become so tilted toward the wealthy that the middle class doesn’t stand a chance?
GERBER: They pulled the rug out from under families. They left everybody in this insecure state and they don’t look back.
ANNOUNCER: CEOs get richer at the expense of workers and shareholders. Is that fair? Next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.
Find out more about who’s getting big contracts in Iraq.
Are the national parks in danger? Recent threats to the 87-year-old system.
Where do you stand on the USA PATRIOT Act? Take a freedom-of-speech quiz.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
BRANCACCIO: Sometimes the most revealing conversations are with the people that we’ve known the longest.
Bill Moyers talked this week to someone he’s known for four decades.
MOYERS: Forty years ago next Friday, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. At that very moment, six members of his cabinet were above the Pacific en route to a meeting in Japan. One of them, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, remembers how they got the word.
UDALL: The information we got was from the Associated Press. It was very simple, very direct and very bleak. It said that the president had been shot and taken to hospital. But then within — the next one that came said that he was dead.
And I still have the ticker tape. I just — it passed around, and I put it in my pocket.
That experience of having someone that you’re close to and just suddenly, they’re gone, and they’re assassinated, that’s a horrible experience. And it just stunned everyone.
MOYERS: And you turned around immediately.
UDALL: Yeah. Yeah. Plane just turned around.
I remember, Bill, one of my reactions — I hate to say this — was, “Well, why did Kennedy have to go to Dallas?” Dallas had had some ugly scenes happen there, you know, in the months and the previous years.
Part of the tragedy was Kennedy’s confidence that something like this wouldn’t happen. Bill, I was with him two months earlier. We’re in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And it’s night. And he went to the fence. I went with him. I was ready to, if someone came up with a gun — you know the Secret Service couldn’t hover around him then — and I was ready to jump in front.
But he thought that he had to show that he believed in the people. That’s sort of part of the tragedy.
MOYERS: Stewart Udall stayed on the job under President Lyndon B. Johnson for another five years, only the second man in history to serve two full terms as Secretary of the Interior. But Udall had supported Kennedy over Johnson in the 1960 Democratic primary and for a while it was touch and go.
Did Johnson ever forgive you for opposing him in 1960?
UDALL: I think he did finally. And I think probably part of that was Lady Bird. Because she treasured me, and we were wonderful friends.
And I had the feeling he didn’t hold it against me. But I’ll tell you, when Kennedy was assassinated, I was the last cabinet member to be brought in. He brought us each individually. And boy, he put me through the hoops. And—
MOYERS: Tell me about that.
UDALL: And scared the hell out of me. I thought I had the best job in the country. And I went in like a lamb, ready to be told I was through. And I— he had me come out like a lion. It was— that’s the way Johnson did things sometimes.
MOYERS: What did he say to you?
UDALL: Well, he said, “You’re a Kennedy man.” He kept saying, “I’m not sure if you were so loyal to Kennedy, you could be loyal to me.” He just hazed me, is the word.
MOYERS: Stuart Udall left his mark on one environmental triumph after another: the Wilderness Bill preserving almost ten million acres of federal land for posterity; Canyonlands National Park; the National Historic Preservation Act; the Wild and Scenic Rivers Bill; the Redwood National Park in California, among others. He even found time to write a book that helped shape the emerging environmental movement.
You wrote a book in 1963 — bestseller THE QUIET CRISIS — that was both a love song to the West and a call to conservation. You were a hopeful idealist in those days, as I think many of us were, about preserving and protecting our natural resources. I mean, this was an ethic of stewardship that you had laid out there. Are you an optimist now?
UDALL: Well, it’s hard some days to be optimistic when you look at what’s happening in Washington. I’m filled with a lot of sadness. You know, we had a big tent, Bill, for 20 years.
We had a big tent on the environment. And Republicans and Democrats, we all worked together. Nixon was a good President on the environment. Gerald Ford was good.
We didn’t have these stupid quarrels now. We didn’t attack each other. We all worked together. And that was the glory of that period, to me. I never called anybody names, an environmental extremist. We didn’t make it a partisan issue. We all worked together.
MOYERS: So what’s happened?
UDALL: What happened was that they dismantled the tent.
The attitude today, the ideology that is driving people in Washington, is that we have too many environmental laws, some of them are too strict, we ought to relax them, we ought to recognize that businesses are being harmed by activities that regulate them. And it’s a sad picture to see the consensus that we had developed break down and have the kind of political arguments made over environmental issues.
It didn’t exist for 20 years.
MOYERS: It’s harder and harder in the West, isn’t it, to get elected without the support of business, without a lot of money from that side in to your campaigns?
UDALL: You know, it almost seems sometimes in Washington that they appear and say, “Well, now, what can we do for you, if you will make big contributions to our political campaign?”
Washington’s a cesspool of money, Bill. I was there 49 years ago. It has changed so drastically it makes me sick every time I look at it.
UDALL: Of money. Of money. Bill, I want to say something to the business community. The business people that I knew in the 60s and 70s and worked with them on projects had a sense of integrity. That they owed duties to the country, duties to the community. The element of honesty was very strong.
This breakdown that we’ve seen in the last three, four years in corporate America, the greed that we see— And the shocking thing to me is that nobody’s shocked. There’s no indignation in Washington.
MOYERS: After leaving office in 1969, Udall practiced law, representing workers from the Nevada atomic test site and serving as lead attorney for Navajo Indians exposed to uranium as miners. He’s written several books, including THE MYTHS OF AUGUST and now, this new one, THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS: RETHINKING THE HISTORY OF THE WEST.
MOYERS: Why do you call it THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS?
UDALL: That first period of 25 years before the Civil War, when these people were doing their pioneering, has sort of gotten wiped out by the Wild West, and by Western films.
And that has become the predominant perception of the American people, the wild west. So I’m —
MOYERS: The gun-slinging —
UDALL: I’m rescuing them from the trash heap of the Wild West, in effect.
MOYERS: The gunslingers at high noon, the shootouts at the OK Corral, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, BONANZA, the Battle of Little Bighorn, all of that, you say, informed our mythology about the West?
UDALL: You remember the Wyatt Earp series and so on. But this is the picture that a whole generation of Americans have about the West.
This first period, Bill, it begins with the Spanish coming out of Mexico a thousand miles into what is now New Mexico, into Texas and California. They came as missionaries. I’m putting religion back in history. It belongs in that part of our history.
MOYERS: Now that was curious to me, Stewart, because most historians I have read about the West do not ascribe religion as a very significant factor in the development of the West.
UDALL: Well, that’s one of the things I take great pride in because I’ve lived there. I’ve absorbed a sense of history. The Spanish history, the Mormon history, the Protestants that went to Oregon. Religion was at the heart of it. It was the driving force.
MOYERS: Now that’s certainly true of the Mormons Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.
UDALL: Well, the Spanish came as missionaries into the southwest, into California, and so on. The Franciscan friars were wonderfully dedicated people. I admire them tremendously. I also admire the native peoples. The native people were settlers. The Pueblo Indians, the Iroquois in New York, for example, they had developed a culture. They had a strong religion, and so on.
I think they were more civilized than the peasants in Europe and the serfs in Russia. And I came to that conclusion after reading and studying.
MOYERS: You were taken with “settlers.” Why is that?
UDALL: Well, that’s where I came from. This little valley where I grew up was settled by Spanish Catholics from Santa Fe and Mormons. They ended up living together there in the same place. And so on.
And to go into a wild virgin country and to establish a home, just starting from scratch, you had to plant gardens. You had to raise your own food and so on. And I’m fascinated by that. And that’s right at the heart of my book.
MOYERS: Yeah, you—
UDALL: It’s respect for settlers, whether they were Indians or Spanish, Catholics or Mormons, or the Protestants that went to Oregon.
MOYERS: “The people who came camped, settled, and stayed,” you write.
UDALL: Well, I wish people today, where we have so much individualism in our society and the community gets neglected, could realize the extent to which, with these early people, the community was almost — the community and their religion, this was their lives.
And the dedication people gave to the community, to build churches, to build schools, to carry on community activities, this was the essence of frontier lives. And it was so important.
You’re how old now, Stewart?
MOYERS: Eighty-three. Your wife died a couple of years ago.
MOYERS: Your sight is such you can’t write another book. What are you doing with your time?
UDALL: Well, I’m still representing Navajo Uranium miners that were victims of one of the radiation tragedies of the West. But I’m going into my creative mind. I’m trying, I say trying, to write an original screenplay that’ll bring in some of the magnificent landscapes that I was involved in helping preserve in the Southwest.
And it probably will never see print as a film, but I’m enjoying it, because it takes me back to the things that I enjoy and believe in.
MOYERS: If he finishes that screenplay, Stewart Udall has an old friend who also loves the West and knows a thing or two about making movies.
UDALL: Robert Redford and I are great friends, and he’s done some wonderful films. And I might just craft something, Bill, that I could take to him, and he’d say, “That’d make a great film.” So, at least that gives me something to do in my old age.
MOYERS: The book if THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS: RETHINKING THE HISTORY OF THE OLD WEST. Stewart Udall, thank you for joining us on NOW.
MOYERS: Now what? From our inbox to yours, here are some items on politics and war that David and I have been collecting this week.
BRANCACCIO: Here’s one for you. CNN’s catching some heat for its youth-oriented debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls. Here’s what one columnist described as its, quote “turtle-necked general, its open-collared Senators, and its shirt-sleeved rolled, feisty stars and bars Vermonter.”
A student complained in the Brown University paper about getting handed a scripted question to ask the candidates, something silly about what kind of computers they use, and THE WEEKLY STANDARD chided the cable network for selecting the audience, screening the questions, and deciding to whom the questions would be directed. The STANDARD said that “Rock the Vote was as authentic as Velveeta.”
It’s worth pointing out that while everyone was beating up CNN over this, no law said the Democrats had to follow the media’s script.
MOYERS: But some of our colleagues in the press were doing an old-fashioned shoe leather job of journalism when President Bush went politicking in the Carolinas this week.
The White House advance team, wanting obviously to spotlight signs of economic recovery and extol the virtues of free trade, picked a plant in Greer, South Carolina, where BMW of Germany makes roadsters and SUVs. But the nearby GREENVILLE NEWS reminded everyone that if people don’t have jobs, they can’t buy BMWs — or for that matter pick-up trucks. Said the paper, South Carolina has lost 58,800 manufacturing jobs since Mr. Bush took office.
BRANCACCIO: Now when the President arrived in North Carolina the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER reminded him about fifty thousand textile jobs have been lost in that state during the same time.
The paper also reported that this year’s federal aid has already run out for those Charlotte-area residents who are about to be evicted or have their utilities cut off. Since just last year, nearly 9,000 more people depended on the Crisis Assistance Ministry for emergency support. That’s a 16 percent increase. Six in ten of those people are employed but don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the President took time out for some fundraising in both Carolinas and came back to the White House with another 2.7 million dollars for his re-election campaign. Now a hundred million and counting.
MOYERS: An update now on our story last week about wounded veterans falling through bureaucratic cracks upon their return home. The LOS ANGELES TIMES sketched a moving portrait of Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, with the arrival of ten new casualties a day on average — that’s 300 a month. The hospital staff is going above and beyond the call of duty to care for the soldiers — working on their days off, bringing pizza to patients and taking them to the movies.
One of the therapists even drove a wounded soldier to the Immigration and Naturalization office to pick up his naturalization papers — one of many soldiers who went to war for this country before becoming a citizen.
BRANCACCIO: Some ex-POWs are getting a different kind of treatment. A federal court awarded seventeen of them almost a billion dollars in frozen Iraqi assets after they were imprisoned and tortured in the first Gulf War. But there’s a catch — the Administration is now blocking that payout, saying they want to use the funds to help rebuild Iraq.
MOYERS: And this is producing quite an awkward stretch for the President’s spokesman Scott McClellan. When reporters pressed him on the issue last week, McClellan managed to say one phrase no fewer than six times, quote: “…there is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.”
BRANCACCIO: True, although several hundred million dollars might have been a start. For links to the original stories, connect to NOW’s revamped website for the full bibliography.
MOYERS: Go there and see what they’re thinking about what we’re saying. That’s it for NOW. Next week, a special edition of our program: “A Question of Fairness.” For all of us at NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on August 13, 2015.